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Careless cops, cooked-up case - Man spends nine years in custody for murder he could not have committed

Published:Sunday | July 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator

The local justice system and the police force have again come in for sharp criticism after a man was held in custody for nine years for a crime he could not have committed.

Ryan Wilson, 25, of Grants Pen, St Andrew, was arrested in 2005 and charged with the murder of Jamaica AIDS Support coordinator, 30-year-old Lenford 'Steve' Harvey.

But on the day of his arrest, Wilson told the police that he could not have been involved in the killing because he was in custody at the Constant Spring Police Station at the time that Harvey was murdered.

Investigators failed to check the station diary to determine if Wilson was indeed in custody at the time, and charged him along with Dwayne Owen, Andrew West and the lone female, Chevaughn Gibson, for the crime.

Over the next seven years, several lawyers represented Wilson before attorney-at-law Ernest Davis was assigned by the court two years ago to represent him.

Davis told The Sunday Gleaner that while interviewing Wilson some time this year, the young man again insisted that he was innocent because he was in custody at the time of the murder.

"I began to do my investigation and so I went to the Constant Spring Police Station and requested that the station diary for 2005 be checked to verify what my client told me," explained Davis.

He said he was told the diary could not be found but he made several visits to the station in the hope that it was found.

Two months ago, the police reported that the station diary was found and it was verified that Wilson was telling the truth.

Davis brought the matter to the attention of the prosecutor in the case and Wilson was freed last Monday when he appeared with his three co-accused before Justice Lloyd Hibbert in the Home Circuit Court.

According to Davis, Wilson will be filing a lawsuit seeking damages against the Government for his ordeal.

The attorney slammed the police for their failure to check on Wilson's alibi as he argued that there was no justification for keeping Wilson in custody for so long.

Davis described the case as a "cooked-up one", as he pointed out that it was one of the co-accused who gave a statement alleging that Wilson was at the murder scene.

Wilson also has the support of several members of the local legal fraternity who described his case as a horrific travesty of justice.

"This makes a mockery of the Constitution, that a trial should take place without delay irrespective of the charge," charged attorney-at-law Bert Samuels.

"One of the amendments to the law that the prosecution has been seeking is that a defendant should give notice of his alibi. The police, in balancing their duty to the defendant or the complainant, is duty bound to check on the alibi given by any suspect, but more so where that alibi places him in the custody of the police themselves," argued Samuels.

According to attorney-at-law Tom Tavares-Finson, once Wilson told the police that he was in custody at the time of the murder, it was incumbent on them to investigate his alibi.

"So the police were derelict in their duty," added Tavares-Finson, as he charged that the defence lawyer and the prosecutor who initially had the case should also be blamed.

In the meantime, a second accused in the Steve Harvey murder, Gibson, was also freed last Monday while the trial continued with the other two accused, Owen and West.

Attorney-at-law Tamika Harris, who represented Gibson, said her client was 16-year-old when she was arrested.

According to Harris, the Judge's Rules — a set of guidelines about police questioning and the acceptability of the resulting statements and confessions as evidence in court — were breached when Gibson gave a statement while in custody.

FEW AUTHORITIES PRESENT

Harris further explained that no lawyer, justice of the peace or adult relative was present when Gibson gave the statement, and it was on that basis she was freed after this breach was pointed and legal authorities cited.

Harris told The Sunday Gleaner that while she is happy her client was freed, she is disappointed that it took such a long time.

However, Gibson is to return to the court on another charge, of knowing about an offence and concealing it. That case is set for mention on July 25.

Harvey was abducted from his home by gunmen who robbed him of several items, including his debit card, and then shot him. Harvey's body was found on November 30, 2005. Following investigations, all four were arrested and charged with murder in the course of furtherance of robbery.